WRITER | RACHEL WHITE
PHOTOS | GULLIVER HISTORICAL SOCIETY
They’ve got all the makings of a great ghost story: dark and stormy nights, solitary living, a rich history, and desolate terrain. That’s what gives these gorgeous old places an aura of spookiness and makes Michigan lighthouses the perfect backdrop for the hauntings you’ll hear about below. If you like the cold shivers, these are the spots to be!
Located in what is now Wilderness State Park, the Waugoshance Lighthouse is no longer in use. But while the light has been extinguished, the spirits remain. According to legend, lighthouse keeper John Herman was a man who enjoyed his drink and a good practical joke. One night, as a prank, he locked his assistant in the tower, and when the man finally got out, Herman was nowhere to be found.
After this, keepers reported mysterious events such as having their chairs pulled out from under them and coal buckets being filled, though not another living soul was around. Waugoshance is now considered one of the most endangered lighthouses in the world. Although you can see the structure from Cross Village, it is best viewed by boat. Shepler’s Ferry offers lighthouse cruises through mid-September.
The Old Presque Isle Lighthouse on Lake Huron has a couple of ghosts rambling around the property. Through its 175 years, multiple apparitions have apparently taken up residence. On some nights, the screams of a woman can be heard over the howling of the wind. A story is told that one of the lighthouse keepers would lock his wife in the tower when he was with his mistress. In a more recent tale, George Parris, a caretaker who died in 1992, continues to light the lamp even though the lighthouse has been decommissioned and the wires disconnected. Both sailors and National Guard pilots report seeing a yellowish light in the tower. Once, when a little girl had climbed the tower, she told her parents about a “nice old man” who had been talking to her. There was no one else at the lighthouse, and when shown Parris’ picture, the girl identified him as the person with whom she had been speaking. You can check out one of the oldest surviving lighthouses on the Great Lakes from May through mid-October.
POINT AUX BARQUES
In a secluded area of Michigan’s thumb lies Point aux Barques Lighthouse. Peter Shook, his wife Catherine, and their eight children lived on the lonely shoreline until 1849, when Peter died while sailing. Catherine officially assumed his duties as lighthouse keeper, giving her the honor of becoming the first female to serve in this capacity in Michigan. It is a role she seems to treasure, for she continues her duties postmortem. There have been sightings of a woman walking the cliffs in mourning clothes and of a woman in the upstairs window wearing an apron. Guests have reported hearing giggling and feeling cold spots. To see this pioneer for women’s rights, make sure your gas tank is full and head to Lighthouse Park in Port Hope, May through mid-October.
At the northernmost tip of Lake Michigan, the Seul Choix Lighthouse stands sentry. The area was named by French sailors caught in a storm who landed there before the lighthouse was built. Fittingly, its translation means “only choice.”
Lighthouse keeper Joseph Willie Townsend lived there with his wife from 1902 until his death in an upstairs bedroom in 1910. Townsend enjoyed a good cigar, but his wife forbade them in the house. In death, Townsend enjoys what he could not in life. Several people report smelling cigar smoke in the lighthouse and hearing someone on the steps, while no one has been smoking, or even around.
Marilyn Fischer, president of the Gulliver Historical Society, has written two books on the spirits of the light at Seul Choix and says the spirits remain because “they love the lighthouse so much, they don’t want to leave.” She relates a story about how Townsend continues to watch over the light, even 100 years after his death. One night about five years ago, the alarm was tripped, sending a signal to Fischer, a first responder, and the state police. Since she lives only five miles away, she drove over.
When Fischer arrived, she was confused that the state police were already there and wondered how they could have beaten her. The police told her that they had seen a man inside and heard him speak; the caretaker must have tripped the alarm accidentally. Fischer explained that there was no caretaker. When they called the alarm company the operator was adamant. No alarm signal had come from them. After a careful search, the police determined that there was indeed no one there, though the chair at the table had been moved and a fork overturned, Townsend’s calling card. They asked Fischer to lock up. After doing so, she was driving home down the only road leading to and from the lighthouse and saw four rowdy kids in a car. Remembering an earlier break-in, she turned around and confronted the kids. They were insolent and sped off, but not before she got their license plate number. The four were caught by the police and convicted of the previous break-in. Fischer and the state police are convinced that the good Captain Townsend let them know that trouble was coming and protected the lighthouse once again.
Open May through September 22, visitors to Gulliver can hope to smell the pervasive cigar smoke for themselves, or they can pick up a copy of Fischer’s book: Spirits at Seul Choix Pointe: True Lighthouse Stories
“…They come forth from the darkness, and their sails
Gleam for a moment only in the blaze,
And eager faces, as the light unveils,
Gaze at the tower, and vanish while they gaze.”
-from Longfellow’s “The Lighthouse”